Making cork jewellery

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016

Cork isn’t only used to make wine stoppers, it also makes for fashionable accessories. Lady Gaga wore a cork dress and Barack Obama has a cork tie. Naturally, Enjoy the Algarve can’t stay behind. And because there’s no better reply to the question ‘Where did you buy that amazing necklace?’ than nonchalantly saying ‘Oh, I just made it myself’, this month, we try making cork jewellery.

Owner of Algarve Rotas and workshop leader Sofia Carrusca (34) arrives loaded with bags. She also wears cool dangling earrings. Naturally, they’re made of cork. But before I can ask if I can copy them, she starts off with an introductory talk about the material we’ll be working with. Her passion shows, not only in her knowledge and hand gestures, but also in her actions: she’s been involved in the petition to elevate the cork tree to the national tree of Portugal. This was indeed done in 2011.

Cork obviously is a big thing in the Algarve (but then, you already knew this as we’ve featured it in our February issue). It’s the bark from the cork tree, which is harvested every nine years according to strict laws. Most people know cork in the shape of bottle stoppers, but it has plenty of more uses. A couple of decades ago, life jackets were made of cork, seeing as the material floats really well. Cork is also used for coasters, baseball bats, and even in soap – Sofia got the idea when she saw the workers in her dad’s cork factory rub their dirty hands with bark to clean them at the end of the day. Another possible use of cork is making jewellery, which is what we’ll be doing today.

We start off by creating a bracelet, which is pretty straightforward. An instant nice-looking result, exactly like you can buy on the markets, without too much effort or troubles. Still, I manage to neatly superglue my index finger to my thumb. The women on my table laugh. Sofia quickly comes over for a look and offers to help. “One time we had a group of Americans and one of them really managed to glue their fingers together,” she explains. “We couldn’t separate the fingers anymore and had to get some alcoholic solution in order to pry them apart. I was afraid they’d sue me or something, so for the rest of the workshop I did all the glueing. I even took away all knifes and scissors and offered them everything pre-cut.”

When working on the necklace, Sofia explains how to create a flower out of pieces of bottle stoppers, but is then happy to let us plotter away and get creative. This isn’t always possible with bigger groups, but today there are only four of us. I go for a yin-yang symbol and am fast becoming a superglue expert (this time my finger and the cork). Luckily Sofia still allows me to use the Stanley knife later on in the workshop, so I can’t be too bad. I’m amazed at how hard it is to cut the cork and wonder how the real artists do it. “The granulated stoppers are easier to cut. But when working on pieces myself, I use sharper materials,” Sofia explains. I’m tempted to ask for the professional tools as well, but don’t want to risk slicing my finger. Red cork is not a good look.

A bit disappointed about my yin-yang symbol, which resembles a dog poo drawn by a pre-schooler, I instead decide to use the natural form and patterns of the cork. Working with the material, instead of trying to force it into unnatural shapes. It works. “Each piece of cork is different, no two pieces are alike,” says Sofia. “That’s what I like about it so much. And its versatility: you can make anything of it. I’ve used cork to make a candle holder, but also to make furniture, like a sofa. And, with the help of a bit of bamboo, I’ve once made a cork table. Fantasy is everything when working with cork; it’s all about using your imagination.”

In order to inspire our creativity, different coloured beads, wire, fabric, buttons, ribbons, dangles and naturally cork in all sizes and shapes (from tread to perfectly round tiny balls) is provided. Picking up some bits of cork, I’m shocked at their lightness; it’s insane, even the larger pieces don’t weigh a thing. I open yet another bottle of super glue and start attaching tiny gold and blue beads to stripes of cork. Half an hour later I find out this is better done by using the metal tread.

Somehow three hours pass. The museum has long closed, the sun is setting and there’s only time for a quick keychain before it gets entirely dark. I select a starfish from the different dangles and I hope it will last as long as Sofia’s keychain, which she made when she first started being creative with cork in 2009 – it’s now still holding her keys. To be on the safe side I add some extra super glue. This stuff is brilliant, it’s like duct tape: if you can’t fix it, you haven’t used enough.

While the rest of the group quickly saves their jewellery before I can glue it to the table, I admire my work. Will I be wearing my new cork jewellery? Hell yeah! I might even start making cork necklaces as a living; it’s at least as fun as writing articles. I say this jokingly, but Sofia explains that many of the people who followed her workshop do end up selling their homemade cork items on markets all over the Algarve. Who knows, if Enjoy the Algarve doesn’t work out, I might become Lady Gaga’s new dressmaker. Or maybe Barack Obama needs a cork keychain to match his tie?


When to go?

Whenever you want as there are no fixed days or times. Making cork jewellery is possible all year round, so just let Sofia know when you want to go. The minimum group size is four people.

Usually, cork workshops are held in the Museu do Trajo in São Brás, but they can be held on any possible location as long as tables and chairs are provided. The workshop takes about three hours.

Want to go? Make sure to reserve beforehand by contacting Sofia. All contact details can be found on the website


For whom?

Creative people who like working with their hands. Also people who aren’t born artists, but who want to create some nice looking stuff can give this a go as the workshop isn’t particularly difficult.

Children can take part as well. In that case, the materials are pre-cut and superglue use is monitored.

In a jewellery workshop you usually make four things: a bracelet, a necklace, a keychain and a ring. There are also other possibilities, like making purses, basket spoons or portraits of cork.


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine April 2016

Posted in This month we try.